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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2102

Mr GEORGIOU (4:39 PM) —by leave—This annual report summarises the very important contributions made by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit in 2003-04 in securing the accountability of the government and the bureaucracy to Australia's parliament and people. It is the eighth and last annual report to be brought down by the committee chairman, my colleague and my friend Bob Charles, the member for La Trobe. The honourable member will not be contesting the next election, and I would like to take some of the very limited time available to recognise the distinguished contribution he has made as the chairman of the committee; indeed, he is the third-longest serving chairman in the committee's history.

The public accounts and audit committee is one of the basic institutions of this parliament. It has a long tradition of non-partisanship and, in the highly combative political system that we inhabit, this is of great value. The tradition of non partisanship has been fundamental to the respect and to the serious consideration with which the committee's recommendations are treated by the parliament and by the government. But traditions are not self-sustaining and, for a time in 2001, they seemed to be breaking down. There was an unprecedented number of dissenting reports, which some members may recollect. I think it is a great tribute to Bob Charles as chairman that this trend has been reversed and the committee is operating according to its best traditions. I also wish to record my recognition of the enormous contribution made to this salutary process by the deputy chair, Tanya Plibersek, the member for Sydney.

Bob is a strong believer that fewer recommendations are better than many, and this is undoubtedly a valid perspective when you see that over 90 per cent of his committee's proposals have been adopted by the government. He has not been afraid to deliver hard-hitting and sometimes unpopular recommendations, on the basis that he would not propose something that was not worth doing. And he has not been averse to using his persuasive powers on ministers to ensure that the committee's recommendations were adopted. Bob has championed financial accountability in government in Australia, and he has assisted the development of public accountability mechanisms overseas. In particular, nations in South Asia have benefited from his assistance and advice. The only blemish on his record is that sometimes when you are sitting on the wrong side he finds it impossible to hear you, but shouting usually helps. I pay tribute to his distinguished contribution to the committee and to the parliament, and I think we all join the deputy chair in wishing him and Rosie well in their post-parliamentary career. Bob, you will be missed. I commend the report to the House.